So there I was. The customs officer in front of me frantically waving a piece a yellow paper at me. Judging by the bulging vein in his neck he was about to explode. I had no idea what he was saying, but I was mesmerized by that rolling of the "R" that Argentinians do.
Rewind. My name is Paul and back in Munich I led a more or less normal life. Engineering degree all but sewn up, late twenties, good job prospects. Fast forward a few years and you might have expected to see me settled in an edge-of-town apartment with a patch of green, a solid desk job in a big corporation and a shiny blue estate car in the garage – everything perfectly arranged. But it all turned out differently, which is why I am writing now.
Alice the Cooper: from online car mart to freight passage to Argentina
With graduation fast approaching, I suddenly had this idea. South America in a MINI. "Anyone can do it in a 4x4," I told my friends when they wanted to know why. I went right ahead and made a car freight booking on a ship from Hamburg to Buenos Aires. But when the shipping company asked me for the VIN number, I realized there was a slight problem. I hadn't actually bought the MINI at that point. But I had a clear idea of it in my mind. It would be red, because that suited South America best, a MINI Cooper and convertible (it’s that much wilder and you get to see a lot more with the top down). And then, finally, I found it, online. Amazing condition despite the high mileage. I was in love after the first test drive. But I couldn't take it away with me right then and there. "I need to keep the car another 2 weeks," I was told by the seller. Hmmm, that's going to be tight with the shipping deadline.
Colourful mixture: impressions of Argentina’s capital from street artists to sport and traffic jams
Two weeks later: "Will we make it to the port by 8?" My mate didn't respond to my question. For about the last hour he had been sitting behind the wheel with a slightly scary grin and no intention of budging from the fast lane. "115 mph! And we're not flat out yet!" This was something of a turnaround for someone who until then had considered anything over 60 reckless boy-racer behavior. We made it. My MINI was loaded onto the ship at the very last minute. The journey was about to begin.
Checkout queue: open top invites a sales pitch at every stop light
So there I was. Who would have thought that the adventure would start with this Argentinian official – or even end with him before it had actually got going. He was still waving the yellow document about. And then luckily along came Gabi, my customs broker. After she had greeted him with a kiss and then handed him the missing papers, he seemed to calm down like an unruly pet dog brought to heel by a treat from its mistress.
Buenos Aires: a vast metropolis with impressive architecture, lots of dogs and quite a few MINIs
American graffiti: German globetrotters’ car in Buenos Aires bears the signature of its travels
I drove away and was immediately stuck in a log-jam of lights. Rush hour in Buenos Aires. Two and a half hours and several litres of sweat later I finally completed the 10-kilometre drive to my friend Pablo's house. That first excursion in my MINI in South America had completely wiped me out. Pablo knew the cure and fetched out a large bottle of whisky from behind a cupboard. Before I went to bed, I paced around the car once more. Unbelievable, but we were there. Ahead of us lay many, many miles of tarmac, plenty of tricky twists and turns and breathtaking landscapes – ample material for the adventure of our lives. "See you bright and early." I said to my MINI as I patted it on the boot and headed off to bed.
Stay tuned for the rest of the South American road trip story…